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Therapy in Unexpected Places

What do clinical psychologists and cocktails have in common? You get both at Cranky Al’s Bakery and Pizza in Wauwatosa, Wis.

Once a month, a plethora of patrons gathers at the restaurant to hear clinical psychologist Julie Helmrich, Ph.D, answer anonymous questions on everything from hormonal swings and chronic lateness to competition and complainers. Helmrich, who has 29 years of experience, provides straightforward, short answers to the crowd, such as:

What is up with female hormonal swings? someone, presumably a man, had written on a card.

Hormones can be like gasoline on a fire, Helmrich calmly explained.

“I know you think they’re bad on the outside,” she said into her wireless microphone. “You should feel what it’s like on the inside.”

“This is going to sound like a joke, but I think it’s wise for you to monitor your wife’s periods,” she said. “You talk about stuff later.”

My husband has a fantasy of going to a bar in his pajamas and robe. What does this mean? Should I be concerned?

“This is not the kind of fantasy that I’d be worried about.”

Though her responses are infused with humor, Helmrich has an important goal with these “Shrink ‘n’ Drink” sessions, beyond comedy and cocktails:

“People really deserve high-quality, scientific psychology that they can use right away,” she said. “My profession should be doing this all over the place. We should be giving away what we know. What good does it do living in my head?”

Helmrich’s aim certainly is an important one. People typically have tons of misconceptions about therapy, likely shaped by the pervasive stigma surrounding mental illness or by the media’s sensational —and often inaccurate—portrayal. Also, therapy can get expensive, although insurance—if you’re fortunate enough to have it—does cover some or all of the cost. So Helmrich’s offer of free advice and a glimpse into mental health and psychology is key in dispelling myths and saving you a few bucks (though you might spend them on the beer).

On the other hand, some of Helmrich’s answers do seem watered down and simplistic, though we’re only judging by a select few and this might be a product of time constraint. Here are several other questions and answers:

I’m habitually and chronically late. What is wrong with me and how do I fix it?

“You can go down the psychiatry route,” Helmrich answered, noting some therapists connect tardiness with passive-aggressive behavior. “Or you can set the alarm.”

What should I say to my friend who wants to complain to me about a crummy sales job when there’s 8% unemployment in Wisconsin?

“Usually what complainers need is somebody to say ‘Aww.’

Though these sessions aren’t meant to replace therapy, the page that advertises the event on Cranky Al’s Web site seems more pop psychology than scientific psychology. It notes that you’ll enjoy a fun night of “raucous psychological chatter” and to “bring a friend and whatever is on your mind. Julie will have an answer…even if she has to make it up!”

Approaching any serious subject with a hint of humor is a great way to make it engaging and perhaps less intimidating. However, with such commonly misunderstood topics as psychology and psychotherapy, there’s a fine line between presenting information in a user-friendly fashion and diluting data.

These monthly gatherings do seem like a step in the right direction—and a clever idea—and underscore the importance of disseminating accurate information and, hopefully, good advice. Psychologists absolutely need to do a better job of demystifying the profession, because so many people are out there mystifying it!

Not many people know how psychotherapy actually works and which treatments are best. Part of the problem is that clinical psychologists in academic positions are pressured to publish their research in peer-reviewed journals if they expect tenure. That rarely leaves time to write for mainstream publications. Even though psychologists are continuously conducting valuable research, we rarely hear about it. So it’s not surprising then that misconceptions and fallacies thrive.

The Facts

Fortunately, there are many helpful resources on the Web that cut through psychology- and therapy-related myths. Here are the facts on mental health, mental illness and psychotherapy:

Patients, Not Patrons: Appropriate Settings for Therapy

We can’t mention therapy in a restaurant without talking about the proper setting for actual sessions, which you’ve probably guessed doesn’t include a cup of coffee or a pitcher of beer at the local diner. The majority of psychotherapy is conducted at a professional office, though some sessions can occur at school.

As Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D, points out, clinicians should have a “compelling reason” to go outside of the office. Treating anxiety disorders with exposure therapy is one such reason. Plante gives the example of a therapist helping a patient work through an airplane phobia. The therapist might conduct a session at the airport, which would be appropriate. In fact, it’s quite common for patients to create a list of anxiety-provoking things, beginning with the least anxiety-provoking event to the most. Together, therapist and patient confront each item on the hierarchy, starting with the least frightening one. A person with a snake phobia might start out looking at a picture of the animal and work his or her way up to seeing a snake in person at the zoo.

One of Psych Central’s experts, Marie Hartwell Walker, Ed.D, a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist, includes an excellent example of an anxiety hierarchy in “Helping Children Who Fear School”.

So what do you think? Is “Shrink ‘n’ Drink” a valuable vehicle for disseminating advice or another type of pop psychology?

Therapy in Unexpected Places


Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.


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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Therapy in Unexpected Places. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/therapy-in-unexpected-places/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.